6 February 2017

Uganda: Deal with Wetland Encroachers Now

Photo: Michael Kakumirizi/Daily Monitor
Rosebud flower farm trucks pouring murrum in Lutembe wetland (file photo).

Just over a month ago, President Museveni, while launching a new water pumping station and a pipeline in Ggaba, a Kampala suburb, gave wetland encroachers one month to leave or be forced out by police.

"All those occupying swamps should leave in peace before police comes for them. If you have planted crops, harvest and go away," Mr Museveni said.

And the Environmental Protection Police Unit in Soroti District seems to have taken either the President's word or lessons from the recent dry spell seriously.

Last week, they ordered Soroti Diocese Bishop George William Ermau to vacate about 12 acres of Ondukurin wetland after the bishop's farming activities had denied the community access to the wetland. For an area like Teso where valley dams have been abandoned to silt and turned into bushes, wetlands come in handy for farmers as the area is extremely vulnerable to severe weather patterns; flooding and drought.

This newspaper also reported recently that endless fights between political nemesis Kibuku County MP Herbert Kinobere and his predecessor Saleh Kamba were draining Limoto-Mpologoma wetland in Kibuku District, eastern Uganda. Each accuses the other of instructing people to invade the wetland in exchange for votes. In Kampala and surrounding areas, it is not uncommon to come across trucks emptying earth into wetlands as they lay ground for construction of either factories or commercial buildings - and sometimes-residential property.

But as we do this, we should be mindful of the roles wetlands play. Wetlands are home to animals, including those that live in other habitats but go there for reproduction and change of environment.

Wetlands prevent flooding by holding rainwater, and they also filter and purify water before it gets into the lake and eventually into our domestic tanks. Wetlands help feed fish by releasing vegetative matter into the rivers or lakes. To the surrounding communities, they help in provision of water through recharging springs, boreholes, and grass for thatching, pasture for animals, formation of rainfall, among others.

Encroaching on wetlands must stop and authorities should apply the law uniformly, not just to the bishop in Soroti. Let's also adhere to Section 36 of the National Environment Act, which provides for protection of wetlands and prohibiting any person from reclaiming, erecting or demolishing any structure that is fixed in, on, under or above any wetland.

Otherwise, when drought hits next time, we shall have only ourselves to blame for trying to be clever by half by cheating nature - all in vain.

The issue: Wetland encroachment.

Our view: Encroaching on wetlands must stop and authorities should apply the law uniformly, not just to the bishop in Soroti.

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